David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“there aren’t a lot of great alternatives for teams looking for above average right-handed hitters.”

 

The Right-Handed Power Problem

by Dave Cameron - November 21, 2014

Ten years ago, everyone wanted young pitching. It was the considered the currency of baseball, the thing you could always trade if you needed to acquire something else. But these days, random kids on the street can throw 100 mph, the strike zone is gigantic, and preventing runs is now the easy part of the game. What everyone wants now is offense, and seemingly, offense in the form of good right-handed hitters.

This seems a reaction to the fact that the league’s platoon splits have gotten larger over the last few years; specifically, left-handed hitters have been exploited more often by left-handed pitching. Here is the league average wRC+ for LHP vs LHB match-ups in each year since 2002:

 

Or if you prefer to see the data in table format.

Season

PA

wRC+

2002

13,545

89

2003

14,540

86

2004

14,249

90

2005

13,541

85

2006

12,925

84

2007

13,866

85

2008

15,253

85

2009

15,246

85

2010

14,580

86

2011

14,536

80

2012

16,857

77

2013

16,134

78

2014

14,785

83

Note that the decline in left-vs-left offensive production is mirrored by a rise in left-vs-left plate appearances, which is likely not a coincidence. There are only so many left-handed hitters in baseball good enough to regularly face left-handed pitching, and as you go further and further down the ladder, you start scraping the bottom of that barrel. The primary way to increase left-on-left plate appearances at the league level is for teams to start more left-handed hitters than they used to, which could be caused by a lack of quality right-handed hitting alternatives for managers to use instead.

As such, teams are starting to skew a little bit too heavily to the left-hand side, and many teams are looking for right-handed hitters to balance out the middle of their line-ups. This desire for right-handed punch was a driving force behind the Mets decision to punt their first round pick in order to sign Michael Cuddyer, and seems like the reason the A’s gave Billy Butler three years and $30 million despite his modest production. Of the five free agent hitters who have signed contracts so far, four bat right-handed and the other is a switch-hitter. The early money in free agency is going towards right-handed bats.

This is good news for Hanley Ramirez, Yasmany Tomas, Nelson CruzMichael Morse, and Torii Hunter, all of whom might face more aggressive bidding wars than we otherwise might have expected. This is probably also good news for the Atlanta Braves, who have both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis on the trade block. For teams with money (or prospects) to spend, there are some guys available who can offer some production from the right side, but they won’t come cheap. And perhaps that’s why the Mets and A’s struck so quickly, sensing that the price on right-handed hitting was never going to come down this winter, and waiting for a bargain might just leave them leaning too heavily from the left side once again.

Looking around baseball, it does seem like there aren’t a lot of great alternatives for teams looking for above average right-handed hitters. Decent left-handed hitters seem to be a dime a dozen — the Blue Jays dumped Adam Lind for a song, while the Pirates just DFA’d Ike Davis, and both project for a 118 wRC+ in 2015, one point better than Butler’s 117 wRC+ projection — but there just aren’t that many equivalently decent right-handed bats. And thus, the premium we’re seeing paid to right-handed hitters early on in free agency.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any decent right-handed hitters who could be acquired on the cheap. So, to those teams who don’t want to pay the markup on established right-handed veterans, I’d like to offer up Tyler Moore as a low-cost alternative.

In terms of availability, players don’t get much more likely to move this winter than Tyler Moore. His role on the Nationals essentially went away with Adam LaRoche, as fellow right-hander Ryan Zimmerman is going to move across the diamond to first base, eliminating the need for a right-handed backup first baseman. The Nationals have used him in the outfield to an extent previously, but with Steven Souza and Michael Taylor around, there’s little need for Moore to serve as a reserve there either. He’s out of options, so the Nationals can’t send him back to the minors, but they don’t have a spot for him on their team either.

Moore is the definition of trade bait, and as a 28 year old with a career WAR of -0.3, he’s probably not going to bring back much in return. But if you’re for a right-handed +1 WAR 1B/DH type who can kind of fake it in the outfield a bit and don’t want to spend $30 million (or $21 million and your first round pick), Moore might just be a guy to go after.

Citing his negative career WAR is slightly unfair, as that’s driven by a -7 UZR in just 500 outfield innings, which translates to a -21 UZR/150; in other words, his defensive value has been rated at a level that would make him something like the worst defensive outfielder in the game. Even Michael Morse, probably the least effective defender still allowed to wear a glove and roam free on occasion, only has a -19 UZR/150 in the outfield. So, we shouldn’t project Moore to continue to play the outfield as poorly as he has, or realistically, play it at all. Any team acquiring him should see him as a 1B/DH, which should hide his defensive limitations.

For those spots, Moore’s bat isn’t anything to write home about, as he has a career 94 wRC+ in 449 plate appearances. However, 90 of those 449 plate appearances have come off the bench, and we know that there is a definitive penalty that pinch-hitters and other substitutes face when they come into a game cold. We shouldn’t be too surprised that Moore’s been a disaster as a pinch-hitter, then; in 65 pinch-hit plate appearances, he’s hit .131/.185/.279, good for a 21 wRC+.

You don’t want to throw out those plate appearances entirely, but we don’t want to treat them as equivalent to the same opportunity as a starter, and his off-the-bench plate appearances account for 20% of his career total, so adjusting for that penalty makes his 94 wRC+ seem a little bit better in comparison. And we don’t just have to rely on his big league performances, since he’s spent parts of each of the last three years in Triple-A as well. In 669 plate appearances in the minors, he managed a 149 wRC+ thanks to a solid walk rate, an average strikeout rate, and some real power.

The combination of mashing in Triple-A and producing roughly average results in the big leagues has Steamer slightly optimistic about Moore’s production level in 2015, projecting a 104 wRC+ for next season. And that’s not accounting for the potential improvement from moving some pinch-hit plate appearances into starting at-bats, so perhaps you bump him up a few more ticks to the ~107 wRC+ range. That would make Moore’s offensive value over 600 plate appearances something like +4 runs above average.

For comparison, Steamer projects Cuddyer at +6 runs on offense, and Butler at +8. Michael Morse projects for +5. Moore offers 90-95% of the potential production of guys signing mutli-year deals, and yet the team who acquires him will pay him something close to the league minimum. And control his rights for four years, in case he does break out and turn into a legitimate everyday player.

It does happen. Last winter, Steve Pearce was a 30 year old with a career 87 wRC+ in 847 big league plate appearances, but he’d hit the crap out of the ball in Triple-A. And then, wham, a +5 WAR season in 383 plate appearances. Tyler Moore probably isn’t going to do that. There’s a reason he’s projected as a +1 WAR per 600 PA guy; his power is just okay for a guy with poor contact skills. But teams are paying a big premium for right-handed bats right now, and Moore can offer a good chunk of what these expensive players are going for, only without being expensive.

If you’re in the market for a right-handed bat this winter, maybe skip the brand names and look at a guy like Tyler Moore instead. The shortage of good right-handed bats shouldn’t mean that teams have to start paying mediocre players like they’re not mediocre.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-right-handed-power-problem/

 

“Guys coming out of the college game have a tendency to throw a lot of pitches that are unnecessary. “

 

Q&A: Kevin Ziomek, Detroit Tigers Pitching Prospect (and the Next Drew Smyly?)

by David Laurila - November 21, 2014

Kevin Ziomek carved up Midwest League hitters in his first full professional season. In 123 innings at West Michigan, the 22-year-old left-hander logged a 2.27 ERA and an 11.1 K/9. His top-flight numbers notwithstanding, he created surprisingly little buzz.

The Detroit Tigers took Ziomek in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Vanderbilt University, which helps explain the paucity of plaudits. When a high-round pick from a high-profile college program excels in Low-A, the reaction is typically “That’s what he was expected to do. Let’s see what he does at the next level.”

Despite his dominance, Ziomek’s chance to pass that next test won’t come until next season. (Tigers farm director Reid Nichols gave a non-specific answer when I asked why Ziomek wasn’t promoted.) One possible reason was an opportunity to spent the entire summer working under the tutelage of Whitecaps pitching coachMike Henneman.

Ziomek, whom Baseball America ranks as Detroit’s second-best pitching prospect, discussed his under-the-radar 2014 performance at the end of the season.

——

Ziomek on his high strikeout rate: “Making pitches early in the count can put you in position to strike people out. What (the Tigers) want is for us to try to get people out early in the count. Then, if we get to that two-strike count, we can try to get that strikeout. Every pitcher – I don’t care who you are – likes to get strikeouts.

“Guys coming out of the college game have a tendency to throw a lot of pitches that are unnecessary. Keeping my pitch count down is something I improved on over the course of the year. I threw first-pitch strikes and got ahead, and as a result my strikeout numbers went up. In a way, I got more strikeouts because I wasn’t trying to strike people out.”

On his fastball-slider combination: “I throw both a four- and a two-seamer. I do a pretty good job of getting the ball inside to righthanders, and I throw a four-seam for that. I’ll throw a two-seamer when I want to run the ball off the plate away from a right-hander.

“I guess I ran (my fastball) up to 94, but I was mostly around 90. Nothing too crazy. I just try to locate and come back with my slider when they’re not expecting it. My slider will be around 75 when I want to throw it for a strike early in the count, and sometimes I’ll run it up closer to 80 for a strikeout later in the count. My slider is probably my biggest strikeout pitch.”

On his curveball and changeup: “My curveball is pretty slow. I kind of like to mix it in early in the count and it’s probably around 70-72 mph. I use it to give hitters a different look. I don’t throw it often, but it’s good to have something extra to show the hitter.

“My changeup is around 78-80 and it’s the pitch I’m working on the most now. In the past, I was predominantly a fastball-slider guy. Here, working with coach Henneman, we’ve really started trying to develop my changeup. As I move up the levels, it’s going to be a big pitch for me, especially as a lefty. You don’t see too many big-league left-handed starters who don’t have a halfway decent changeup.”

On working with Mike Henneman: “I like talking about the mental approach to pitching with coach Henneman. He’s big on going out there and just competing — knowing your stuff is good enough to beat anybody if you locate the ball well. If you execute pitches, you’re going to be able to get guys out.

“He’s also helped me out a lot with pitch sequencing. We talk about that quite a bit. Some guys kind of just go out there and throw the ball – I was sort of like that in the past – but he’s taught me a lot about when to throw a certain pitch and how to outsmart hitters. What I learned from him really helped me take off in the second half.

“I like talking to our coaches, because they’ve been through it and know how things work. Coach Henneman pitched in the big leagues for a long time. A.J. (Sager), our pitching coordinator, and Mike Maroth also pitched in the big leagues and are great resources. I also like talking to some of the hitters. They’ll tell me what pitchers like to throw them in certain counts, and I can learn from that. By the time you get to this level, it’s not so much about mechanics, but more learning the mental side of the game.”

On mechanical adjustments and not speeding up: “There’s been nothing crazy, just trying to keep things slow. I kind of have a tendency to rush through my delivery a little bit. Sometimes I get a little excited out there. Coach Henneman has pointed that out to me. I’ll be rushing, maybe in tighter situations or early in the game. I’ll be a little more jacked up, so we focus on me staying slow and keeping things simple.

“I’ve always been that way. I get pretty excited when I get out there on the mound, so I always have to take a second before I make a pitch. I take that deep breath. I guess I just love to pitch so much that I get fired up.”

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/qa-kevin-ziomekdetroit-tigers-pitching-prospect-and-next-drew-smyly/

 

 

 

“That speaks, in part, to the ability of front offices to evaluate talent”

 

On the Considerable Charm of the Minor-League Free Agent

by Carson Cistulli - November 20, 2014

Yesterday in these pages, the author — standing on the shoulders of the giant that is the Steamer projection system — attempted to identify the player most likely to serve as 2015′s edition of Yangervis Solarte. Surely, that post has already made household names of Buck Britton and Jose Martinez and Deibinson Romero.

For some people, identifying the next Yangervis Solarte is probably a less compelling endeavor than finding 2015′s edition of Mike Trout (which is to say, the best player in all of baseball), for example, or even 2015′s edition of Michael Brantley (which is to say, a player who unexpectedly produced among the league’s highest WAR figures).

The problem in each of those cases, however, is that 2015′s edition of Mike Trout is most likely just Mike Trout. And, while Michael Brantley was a more ordinary player before the 2014 season, he also wasn’t a freely available one.

No, the pleasure of contemplating Yangervis Solarte is that he began the 2014 season as little more than a $500 thousand investment by the Yankees and transformed into approximately a $10 million profit.

Nor was this merely a victory for the club. From Solarte’s perspective, that series of events was also excellent. After recording more than 2800 plate appearances over eight years in the Twins’ and then, for a shorter time, Rangers’ minor-league systems — over which long interval he recorded zero major-league appearances — he’s parlayed his opportunity with the Yankees into (probably, at least) a role as anopening-day starter for San Diego. That’s a nearly ideal scenario for a player granted minor-league free agency.

As some haphazard research by the author indicates, it’s also an unlikely scenario. Less than 1% of the players granted minor-league free agency at the end of one season produce 0.5 WAR or more at the major-league level in the next. That speaks, in part, to the ability of front offices to evaluate talent. They’re pretty good at recognizing who will and who won’t have success at the highest level. It also speaks, of course, to opportunity. As noted within that haphazard research, if a player has been granted minor-league free agency one season, he’s also unlikely to begin the following season as part of his new club’s 25-man roster. He’s even less likely to earn such playing time as would allow him to contribute significantly to that new club.

Carson Cistulli, known to those familiar with him as an “idiot,” has no bearing on which of the current stock of 500 or so minor-league free agents will receive that Solarte-like opportunity. Indeed, the clubs themselves only barely do. For, while they’re responsible, of course, for stocking their minor-league systems and creating an organizational depth chart, the opportunity for a career minor leaguer like Solarte is generally only a product of injury or ineffectiveness at the major-league level. Solarte, for his part, received a chance largely because of a suspension to Alex Rodriguez that created a vacancy at third base, and then an injury to Mark Teixeira early in the season which forced third baseman Kelly Johnson to move across the diamond — this, only after Solarte had played his way into consideration already during spring training and continued to hit in the majors.

So the odds either of becoming or identifying the next Solarte aren’t particularly high. And yet the probability that at least one player who entered minor-league free agency earlier this month — the probability that one of them will add a win-plus to his team is about 100%*. He’s out there somewhere — indeed, Baseball America recently published a list on which his name, by definition, appears — but his precise identity remains unknown.

*An average of three such players do this every year.

At some level, the productive minor-league free agent isn’t unlike that actor whose work you enjoy but who, one day, you discover is actually Canadian — even after you’d assumed he was an American all these years. He’s looked and sounded American this whole time, and yet he’s from a whole different country with its own currency and television channels and, in certain cases, entirely different official languages. Looking back, you see that perhaps there were signs. Like maybe he was alarming polite during a particular interview or just perceptibly raised a diphthong before a voiceless consonant. But this is only in hindsight.

Indeed, in hindsight, Gregor Blanco looks like a real major-league player. He’s recorded three consecutive seasons now of two or more wins. He was acquired by the Giants, though, only after the Nationals had granted him minor-league free agency following the 2011 season. Indeed, in hindsight, Jose Quintana looks even morelike a major-league player. He’s produced over 10 wins in three years for the White Sox — this, though, only after having been granted minor-league free agency by the Yankees following the 2011 season. And, indeed, it would appear as though Yangervis Solarte has the makings of a major leaguer. As noted, though, he was compelled to spread out eight seasons of his minor-league career over two organizations before having the opportunity to make a case for himself. A legitimate future major leaguer — one who’s spent more than six years in the minors and has maybe already had his 25th birthday — is currently a free agent who will be signed for nearly nothing in the context of the current market. We all get to find out together.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/on-the-considerable-charm-of-the-minor-league-free-agent/

 

“it gives you an idea of how the deck is stacked against players, particularly at the beginning of their careers."

 

 

WILL LEITCH

November 20, 2014

STANTON WORTHY OF HIS FORTUNE

An old friend of mine sold a novel a few years ago, for a substantial amount of money. It was her first novel, one she'd been working on for several years, at considerable personal expense. When word got out to her friends and associates that her book had sold, people started acting strangely around her. That is to say: They acted as if she'd just won the lottery.

They'd say things like, "That's so great for you! How did it happen? You're so lucky." There was a hint of disbelief in their voices, almost universally. It wasn't so much surprise that she'd written a good book; it was just that it had sold.

There was something about reaching that level of achievement that felt strange to them, almost indulgent; it was one thing to write a book, but another all together to sell it. Writing is supposed to be a passion, something you do for fun or compulsion. Making money off it almost felt vulgar to people. Or, more to the point: It felt random. It felt to many like my friend had somehow been selected, as if by chance, some sort of lightning bolt from the skies.

This frustrated my friend to no end. People acted like she was given some sort of gift, rather than receiving compensation for her years of hard work. You know, I had to go out and write the damned thing.

***

Yesterday, at the press conference announcing Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins, a reporter asked Stanton is he was "embarrassed" to now make $70,000 a day. Here's what he said:

"Embarrassed? No. I know I have a lot of expectations I have to live up to, which I'm willing to do. This isn't like having a winning lottery ticket and 'peace out.' You win the lottery and go away, retire. This is the start of new work and a new job for this city."

This was a very politically savvy and polite way to answer this question, which is another thing you buy when you pay someone $325 million to play for your baseball team: Someone who won't throttle a reporter for asking an idiotic question at your introductory press conference. But this is an idiotic question.

Giancarlo Stanton is 25 years old. (He just turned 25 years old a couple of weeks ago, actually.) He has 154 home runs in his career, becoming the third-youngest player ever to reach the 150-homer mark. According to FanGraphs, he has produced 19.5 WAR so far in his career, which is almost exactly the WAR produced by Ryan Howard, who is a decade older, in his career to this point. The rough market number for dollars per WAR is $6 million, which means for every "win" a player gives you relative to a freely available minor leaguer (aka "replacelement level"), the market rate is $6 million. So in a purely baseball sense, Stanton has "earned" $117.6 million in his career so far.

This, of course, doesn't account for all the other money he has brought into the game, off-field. Stanton is a charismatic, telegenic presence, the one guy everyone wanted to watch at the Home Run Derby in Minnesota this year. His jersey is the best-selling on the Marlins (obviously), and with Jose Fernandez hurt last season, he was essentially the only reason to even look at that team in 2014. He has made two All-Star teams. He's the only Marlin you know. The value he has brought to that franchise, off the field, is undeniable.

So, add whatever number you think that is to the $117.6 he has produced on the field. It's a lot. But: That's money that Stanton has produced, but that's not money that Stanton has received. Up to the point that Stanton signed that contract, he had actually been paid $7.933 million. That is $100 million less than he has been worth.

Considering how much money is floating around baseball right now, this is of course a rough figure. But it gives you an idea of how the deck is stacked against players, particularly at the beginning of their careers. That $7.933 million is actually more than most people can make the first few years. But even with that: That is $100 million in profit for the Marlins off the back of Giancarlo Stanton. This is fundamental economics: A corporation earning more from its employees than it pays them. This is why corporations exist. But $100 million -- and again, it could be more than that -- is $100 million.

The thing is: No one asks Jeffrey Loria if he feels "embarrassed" to make $100 million off the back of someone else's labor. Jeffrey Loria is an art dealer -- another job profiting off the work and creativity of others -- who made enough money to buy a professional baseball team (several MLB teams, actually, but let's not get into that right now) and therefore benefit from that perpetual cash cow, especially in recent years. Loria has every right to do this, and more power to him. But the notion that he has somehow "earned" his money, while Stanton should somehow be "embarrassed" by his, is lunacy.

Also, think about Stanton's job, and how it contrasts with yours, or mine. (And definitely Loria's.) If you have an off day at work, or an off month, or an off year, you are unlikely to be fired. If I write a bad column from time to time, hey, it happens: Everybody has an off day. In professional athletics, though, there are tens of thousands of people who are desperately striving for your job every minute. Your performance is measured, down to the smallest detail, by thousands of people, people you will never meet and never know. You must keep yourself in peak physical condition and constantly be adapting your work habits to survive, because those trying to stop you from doing your job -- in this case, pitchers -- constantly adapt their work habits to do so. It is a massive pressure job that gives no quarter: If you slip, just a bit, everybody notices.

And of course it can all go away like that. One wrong step on first base, one sprint into a wall after a flyball or, lo, one fastball aimed at your cheek, and all this work, all this talent, all this dedication … it can all vanish. Nothing's going to ever make Jeffrey Loria's ability to make a living like that vanish.

Neverminding the fact that if Stanton continues to contribute at the pace he has -- let alone improve -- he'll make that contract, the biggest of all time, look like a bargain. But we don't think of it that way. We think, as fans, "he's making all that money to play baseball! That's ridiculous! He's just playing a game!" But he is fighting in a zero-sum market: Every minute until he signed that contract was a risk. He didn't get that contract because he was lucky, because he won the lotto, because the hand of God reached down and just touched him. Giancarlo Stanton got this contract because he earned it. He got this contract because he worked his tail off. To paraphrase my friend: He actually had to go out and hit the damned ball.

You know what the most truthful response Stanton could have given to that $70,000 a day question was? "Underpaid," Stanton should have said. "I'm a freaking bargain. And you know what? I earned every penny of this. I have nothing to apologize for."

That probably wouldn't have been the smartest thing to say at your introductory press conference. But he would have been right.

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/101989570/giancarlo-stanton-contract-embarrassed-worth

 

“I don’t give a damn who it is, you can’t trust nobody.”

 

 

Michael Arace commentary: Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson in sadly familiar predicament

 

By Michael AraceThe Columbus Dispatch  •  THURSDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2014 1307

Seven months ago, The Dispatch caught wind of attempts to serve a subpoena on Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson at Nationwide Arena. Johnson tried to evade service, and his teammates were helping by acting as a sort of human shield.

Subpoena? For what?

It did not take long for beat writer Aaron Portzline to find a trail of public records that described a string of usurious loans, subsequent defaults and inevitable lawsuits.

Along the trail there appeared prominent businessmen, one now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who had little side businesses that entailed loaning money to people who could not otherwise get loans. They charged exorbitant rates of interest.

The word predatory sprang to mind.

Then, another question: Why was Johnson, who has grossed nearly $19 million in salary, who makes $5 million annually, apparently broke?

The mind jumps to all kinds of conclusions when you learn of something like this. In this case, all signs point to Johnson as victim, that he was taken advantage of by his family.

It seems astounding, but it happens. He is only the latest athlete/millionaire to go bust.

Sports Illustrated put meat on the bones of this concept in March 2009, with a story headlined, “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke.” ESPN in 2012 followed up with a 30 For 30 installment entitled, Broke. Director Billy Corben described his documentary this way:

“It’s essentially a step-by-step guide, ‘How to Lose Millions of Dollars Without Breaking a Sweat.’  ”

It is about 20-year-olds who suddenly are rich and who have no concept of personal finance. They are caught up, and competing, in the lifestyle. They are stalked by people looking to get their money. Sometimes, it does not take long to vaporize.

According to SI, 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement, and 78 percent of NFL players are experiencing some level of financial stress within two years of retirement.

Stay around long enough in my business and you know some of these guys. I covered University of Connecticut basketball in the late 1990s, at a time when Richard Hamilton was the easygoing superstar and a kid by the name of Josh Nochimson was the student manager.

Hamilton took Nochimson along to the NBA as his business manager. In 2008, Hamilton sued Nochimson, alleging that Nochimson had stolen $500,000 to $1 million from him.

“We don’t like to look over stuff, but you can’t trust anybody,” Hamilton said at the time. “I don’t give a damn who it is, you can’t trust nobody.”

Two years ago, tennis star Arantxa Sanchez Vicario got into tax trouble with the Spanish government.

She made more than $60 million in purses over her career. She found out her family “lost” most of the money.

The way it looks, something similar happened with Johnson, who trusted his parents to handle his money. The way it looks, Johnson’s parents were less than forthcoming when the sharks started circling. The way it looks, Johnson’s parents got in a hole, could not dig out and left their kid in their hole with the shovel.

I feel for Johnson, who essentially has divorced himself from his parents and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. He is experiencing something that is emotionally wrenching and publicly embarrassing.

I am also rooting for Johnson, who has taken ownership of a situation that was not wholly of his making. That is admirable. I hope this is a cathartic experience for him and the start of something new, and better.

His chin is raised.

 

 

Michael Arace commentary: Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson in sadly familiar predicament

 

By Michael AraceThe Columbus Dispatch  •  THURSDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2014 1307

Seven months ago, The Dispatch caught wind of attempts to serve a subpoena on Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson at Nationwide Arena. Johnson tried to evade service, and his teammates were helping by acting as a sort of human shield.

Subpoena? For what?

It did not take long for beat writer Aaron Portzline to find a trail of public records that described a string of usurious loans, subsequent defaults and inevitable lawsuits.

Along the trail there appeared prominent businessmen, one now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who had little side businesses that entailed loaning money to people who could not otherwise get loans. They charged exorbitant rates of interest.

The word predatory sprang to mind.

Then, another question: Why was Johnson, who has grossed nearly $19 million in salary, who makes $5 million annually, apparently broke?

The mind jumps to all kinds of conclusions when you learn of something like this. In this case, all signs point to Johnson as victim, that he was taken advantage of by his family.

It seems astounding, but it happens. He is only the latest athlete/millionaire to go bust.

Sports Illustrated put meat on the bones of this concept in March 2009, with a story headlined, “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke.” ESPN in 2012 followed up with a 30 For 30 installment entitled, Broke. Director Billy Corben described his documentary this way:

“It’s essentially a step-by-step guide, ‘How to Lose Millions of Dollars Without Breaking a Sweat.’  ”

It is about 20-year-olds who suddenly are rich and who have no concept of personal finance. They are caught up, and competing, in the lifestyle. They are stalked by people looking to get their money. Sometimes, it does not take long to vaporize.

According to SI, 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement, and 78 percent of NFL players are experiencing some level of financial stress within two years of retirement.

Stay around long enough in my business and you know some of these guys. I covered University of Connecticut basketball in the late 1990s, at a time when Richard Hamilton was the easygoing superstar and a kid by the name of Josh Nochimson was the student manager.

Hamilton took Nochimson along to the NBA as his business manager. In 2008, Hamilton sued Nochimson, alleging that Nochimson had stolen $500,000 to $1 million from him.

“We don’t like to look over stuff, but you can’t trust anybody,” Hamilton said at the time. “I don’t give a damn who it is, you can’t trust nobody.”

Two years ago, tennis star Arantxa Sanchez Vicario got into tax trouble with the Spanish government.

She made more than $60 million in purses over her career. She found out her family “lost” most of the money.

The way it looks, something similar happened with Johnson, who trusted his parents to handle his money. The way it looks, Johnson’s parents were less than forthcoming when the sharks started circling. The way it looks, Johnson’s parents got in a hole, could not dig out and left their kid in their hole with the shovel.

I feel for Johnson, who essentially has divorced himself from his parents and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. He is experiencing something that is emotionally wrenching and publicly embarrassing.

I am also rooting for Johnson, who has taken ownership of a situation that was not wholly of his making. That is admirable. I hope this is a cathartic experience for him and the start of something new, and better.

His chin is raised.

http://bluejacketsxtra.dispatch.com/content/stories/2014/11/20/arace-column-on-jack-johnson-11-20.html